Gunmen assassinated a popular Mexican television star near a major highway in the capital in broad daylight Monday, stunning a nation already shellshocked by soaring crime.
Francisco "Paco" Stanley, 56, was raked by semiautomatic rifle fire as his black sport utility vehicle was leaving a taco restaurant, city officials said. The assailants fired at short range through the vehicle's window, then escaped.
Stanley's employer, TV Azteca, and Mexico's other major national network, Televisa, canceled their regular programming for hours to report on the sensational killing. Azteca appealed to witnesses to call a hotline it established for tips on the slaying. Weeping actors filled the airwaves with protests about rising crime.
"They didn't just kill a person," declared one anguished actress, soap opera star Silvia Navarro, her voice breaking. "They're killing Mexico."
But authorities in Mexico City insisted that the midday killing wasn't related to the thousands of assaults and scores of kidnappings that have terrified residents of the capital in recent years. They said the slaying apparently was carried out by professional hit men--although they gave no reason why anyone would want to assassinate the comedian.
"There are no signs this was a kidnapping. There are no signs that the criminals wanted to steal something from him. All indications are that they specifically wanted to take Paco Stanley's life," the city prosecutor, Samuel del Villar, said in an interview with Televisa.
With 25 years in television as the jocular host of variety and game shows, Stanley was a familiar figure to Mexicans. His co-workers said they knew of no reason anyone would seek vengeance against him. However, they were checking a tip that an audience member had held up a sign reading "Paco, You're Dead" during one of Stanley's recent programs, said Raul Sanchez Carrillo, Azteca's executive news director.
Stanley had gone to the restaurant in southern Mexico City for breakfast after his early morning variety show, said Jorge Lecuona, manager of the restaurant, El Charco de las Ranas.
"He was in his car, pulling out onto the street," Lecuona said.
Del Villar, the prosecutor, said three or four gunmen approached on foot from the highway and pumped at least 24 bullets into the vehicle before fleeing. Stanley was hit four times in the head. Another passenger, Jorge Gil, Stanley's co-presenter on the morning show, was wounded in the leg. Their chauffeur was unharmed, but stray bullets killed a passerby leaving the restaurant.
Stanley was accompanied by two bodyguards in a second car, who fired at the assailants but failed to halt their flight, TV Azteca officials said.
'How Long Can This Go On?'
Stanley's fans flocked to the site just off the Periferico highway, straining to glimpse his black Lincoln Navigator, its windows shattered.
"Adios Paco! Your fans," read a sign carried by one mourner.
"I'd like to ask the authorities: How long can this go on?" the unidentified mourner barked into a television camera. "Who will be next? Now it's impossible to live in this city."
Mourners also jammed the phone lines of radio stations, demanding an end to the crime wave that has transformed the capital since 1994, the year Mexico's currency, the peso, collapsed.
Mexico City's first opposition mayor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, pledged to go after criminals when he took office in December 1997. Authorities say crime in the capital has been gradually dropping. But polls indicate that residents are still panicked.
The killing seemed sure to further damage Cardenas' already drooping popularity ratings and harm his ambitions to run for president in 2000.
Monday evening, city justice officials distributed a sketch of one of the suspected gunmen, a man with a shaved head and black mustache.
Two suspects were detained Monday night and held for questioning, one of them the owner of a car used in the getaway, Televisa reported.
Politicians were quick to join in the surging chorus of criticism of the city's crime-fighting efforts after Stanley's death.
"This shows that public security is very bad, no? All the security programs must be reviewed from the bottom up," said Manuel Bartlett, a veteran politician seeking to become the presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.